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Fallen firefighters remembered as officials look to 'turn corner' on Station blaze

September 4, 2009 |  8:54 am

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Firefighters at the Station fire command center began their day today remembering Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones, Los Angeles County firefighters who died Aug. 30 trying to protect about 60 people as flames advanced near Mt. Gleason.

Some shared stories about the two men, including the time a little more than a month ago when they administered aid to a female inmate they were working with on a recent blaze.

La-me-4fire06_kpgcqjnc"What an example of service before self," Mike Bryant, one of the Station fire's incident commanders, said later in the morning. The memorial, which lasted about 15 minutes, ended with a prayer. "We're all trying to cope," Bryant said.

He said the message of the service was "let's put this fire out in the memory of our brothers."

The largest fire in L.A. County history, classified as arson, grew to 148,258 acres and was 42% contained this morning.

The main areas of concern remained the fire's eastern edge in the San Gabriel Wilderness and on the west side in the Pacoima Canyon area. 

Another incident commander, Mike Dietrich, said that even though firefighters were grieving the loss of the two men, they still had a job to do and were focusing on extinguishing the blaze. He said battling the flames in the Pacoima Canyon area was difficult because of brush that reached heights of 20 feet and steep terrain where firefighters could reach out their hand and touch the slopes they were climbing.

La-me-4fire07_kpgckfncThe only current evacuations are six homes near that area along Little Tujunga Canyon Road.

Dietrich said the fire was continuing to spread into the San Gabriel Wilderness on the east, but was staying above communities including Monrovia. He said the area in the San Gabriel Wilderness was one of the main concerns and priorities. The fire continued to burn near the base of Mt. Wilson, a critical communications site in Southern California and also home to an observatory, but Dietrich said the area had not been overrun and that firemen were working to protect the structures.

Overall, Dietrich said "we can see the corner, we'll be turning it shortly."

The fire has cost more than $28 million and in addition to the fatalities, several firefighters have been injured and several others have been treated after coming across hazardous materials.

County Fire Capts. Larry Tucker and Glenn Goulet also spoke at a news briefing about Quinones and Hall.

"It's been a very difficult time," Tucker said. "You just expect to have the cellphone ring and it's Teddy calling up." Goulet called the men "true heroes" and said that when Quinones asked " 'Hey brother, how ya doing?' He meant it. You were his brother."

Hall's body is to be moved this morning from North Hollywood at about 10 a.m. and will pass near the command center. Firefighters whose duties permit will gather along Foothill Boulevard to watch it pass, an L.A. County fire official said.

Officials said they determined that the Station fire, the largest brush fire in the history of Los Angeles County, was the result of arson after investigators examined forensic evidence from scorched landscape off Angeles Crest Highway, north of La Cañada Flintridge. The spot is believed to be the origin of the Station fire.

A person close to the investigation said incendiary material had been found near the site. The source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, would not be more specific or identify the material.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said investigators don't want to release details out of fear they could hurt their ability to find and prosecute an arsonist.

Baca stressed that the homicide probe is still wide-open, saying investigators believe that the fire was set deliberately by someone intent on triggering a devastating blaze but that there is a possibility it could have been sparked accidentally by a negligent person. Either way, the sheriff said the department could pursue homicide charges.

"If an arsonist did this, everyone should be angry about it," Baca told The Times. "This is one of the most unacceptable crimes."

On Wednesday, authorities cordoned off an area near Mile Marker 29 along Angeles Crest Highway with yellow tape, blocking the highway as investigators searched through the ash under a scorched oak tree using wire mesh sifters. Even Caltrans workers were turned away.

The probe has been complicated somewhat by the fact that fire burned over the point of origin twice, making the collection of evidence difficult, other people familiar with the investigation told The Times.

The arson announcement came as firefighters made more progress Thursday in containing the fire.

Firefighters expected to have further information on containment after conducting infrared mapping.

--Ari B. Bloomekatz at Hansen Dam and Richard Winton

Photos: Firefighters, top, preparing to resume the battle against the Station fire bow their heads early Friday in remembrance of two of their own killed while fighting the blaze: Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, middle, and Firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 34, who died Sunday when their truck plunged down a hillside. A formal memorial is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Dodger Stadium. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

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Photos: Wildfires | High-res | Mapped Interactive map: The Station fire

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Twitter: Follow @latimescitydesk | @latimesfires

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